By most accounts (including my own), Oliver Stone's Alexander was an epic disaster, miscast, laughably cheesy, and painfully bloated. Costing a reported $155 million (with another $40 million spent on marketing), it made barely a ripple as it sank, leaving Stone bruised and his backers no doubt depressed. Despite the failure, however, Stone has seen fit to release a special DVD-only "director's cut" of the film (named, handily, Alexander: Director's Cut), and while the results this time around are much the same, his reasons for the retooling are somewhat surprising. This new version of the film isn't the director's lost vision—there's no sham like the vaunted dream sequence in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. No, Stone's changes to Alexander are an act of surrender. For the first time in his career, the bully director has admitted defeat.
Proof of this can be found in the lame marketing blurbage found on the DVD's cover: "Newly inspired, faster paced, more action-packed!" Leaving aside just what "newly inspired" is supposed to mean, "faster paced" and "more action-packed" tell us everything. This new version of Alexander—trimmed and shuffled and severely less gay—isn't what Stone wants, it's what he thinks audiences want. Hence the blurbage. Hence also the disappearance of Jared Leto.
In the original version, Leto's Hephaistion, comrade and lover to Alexander, was a major player. Now he's been relegated to the sidelines, allowed only longing gazes at his former canoodler, stuck in little more than the role of a human pout. It's a sad turn of events for Hephaistion, whose presence in the original often lifted the otherwise stuffy epic into the realm of entertaining cheese; so poorly handled was Alexander and Hephaistion's pairing that every line between them bordered on hysterical. Homos haven't been completely abandoned in the new cut—a pretty houseboy gets a rather tame call to Alexander's tent, and a speech by Aristotle (Christopher Plummer) to a group of children about the beauty of men laying with men survives. But the message is clear: Straight men, not Oscar voters, are the key demographic this time around, and the director's cut is actually weaker than the original for it.
It's a weakness extended through Stone's focus on faster pacing and more action—his "newly inspired" vision—which takes an overlong and often dull original and tarnishes it (if that's really possible) by turning matters into a jumbled mess. Anthony Hopkins's maudlin voice-over has been thankfully trimmed (isn't there another Limey kicking around waiting to be tapped as a narrator?), but as a consequence the military campaigns, along with the various scheming and backstabbing from Alexander's army, are set frustratingly adrift. The result is a film that replaces audience indifference with audience confusion—and when they're not confused they remain, as with the original, bored. You can argue that Stone deserves some praise for at least attempting to make his film better—it's an interesting experiment, if nothing else. Too bad then that he still had so little to work with.